According to How Stuff Works,

Studies show that a satisfied customer will tell 2-3 people about his experience with your company. A dissatisfied consumer will share their lament with 8-10 people and some will push that number to twenty.

But here's the opportunity. An unhappy customer will become a loyal consumer if you fix his complaint and do it quickly. Eighty percent (80%) of these folks will come back to you if you've treated them fairly. That percentage rises to the upper 90s if you respond immediately. Every day you have the chance to transform your mistakes into returning customers -- the kind who will tell other people good things about you. Imagine that.

Having worked in retail for several years before heading into the IT field, I can tell you that those numbers are spot on. I served as the Tech Department Manager at a large computer retailer, and there is no angry customer like one who just spent two or three thousand dollars on a new computer system that isn't working as expected (this was back when a PIII system with a 15" monitor actually cost that much). I'm much too young to be telling stories about "the good old days", although I realize that my kids will snicker behind my back when I mention that music came on audiotapes and movies on 12" Laserdiscs in my youth. But I digress…

The reason I became a manager in the tech shop was that I worked as a technician during the closing shift, and usually answered the counter when Mr. and Mrs. New Computer Purchaser came in looking to yell at someone. That someone was usually me. I would listen to their problems, offer to help in whatever limited way I could, and would eventually pick up the intercom to page the Duty Manager over to the tech shop. My page for assistance would precipitate a mass exodus by anyone with authority. Managers and supervisors would remember that they were due for a break, or needed to step into the bathroom, or would become deeply engrossed with helping someone find the right ink cartridge for their printer. All the while, the customer at the counter would grow angrier by the minute while I repeated my entreaties for help to no avail. I recall a time when one particularly frustrated individual eventually picked up the phone and threw it in my general direction… it is moments like these when $7.50/hr did not make up for the abuse I received.

One manager in particular would eventually make his way over to the tech shop, walking in a manner that made it clear that he had no intention of helping the customer. His meandering gait said "I'll get there when I'm good and ready." When you have worked at any company for a while, you learn the ins and outs of the system. I have always endeavored to learn ways to help out my customers, but this particular manager had an snappy rejoinder for every complaint. Returning a product 2 hours outside of the return policy? Denied. Sent in the UPC code for a rebate? No exchange for you! Receipt with an extended warranty slightly illegible? Rejected. Although it would have taken no extra effort on his part to take care of the customer, he found a sadistic pleasure in using the store policies to leave the customer out to dry. I felt so strongly against his philosophy of customer service that I applied for the Tech Manager position once it opened, and went out of my way for several years to proactively solve little problems before they became big problems, to listen to customers and determine what they were actually needing (which is often different from what they are asking for), and to use my powers for good. This lead to customers that came back again and again, referred their friends and family to the store, and one customer in particular that gave me a bottle of Crown Royal (while I was 19). I still have the (unopened) bottle ;)

So how does this relate to the blog title of "Cingular Rocks"? I finally got a cell phone in January, after not having one for nearly 5 years.

5 Years without a cell phone? In the 21st Century? For a geek working at Microsoft? What gives?!?!?

In 2001, I bought a new Sprint Cell phone (my first), and brought it home. I tried for an entire weekend to make calls from home with the cell phone, but due to the fact that my apartment was built into a hill, I had no signal at all without walking a block away. This would obviously not work as my primary phone, and I called Sprint to cancel. Despite having had the phone for a single weekend… a phone with no signal… Sprint proceeded to charge me contract cancellation fees totaling over $250. I was transferred to supervisors and managers, and nobody would override the decision. I had signed a contract for a year of service, and they were going to hold me to that contract come hell or high water. The experience so disillusioned me that I went 5 years without a cell phone. To Sprint, I was clearly unimportant as anything other than a source of revenue.

Contrast that with my Cingular experience. After getting a Windows Mobile 5 cell phone in January, I synced it with my Windows Vista Box, and chose "yes" when asked if I wanted my work email to be sent to my phone. I didn't specifically check with Cingular to see if I had a data plan, but assumed that I did as emails started showing up on the phone. How convenient! When stuck in traffic or in a waiting room, I could fight the email monster that assures my inbox is always full. I could check traffic, and weather, and maps, and stock prices. How cool!

Or at least it was cool until the phone bill arrived… It turns out I didn't have a data plan, and I had been paying for my data by the kilobyte. A little over 20MB in traffic had cost me over $200 in data fees. Arrrggghhh!!! I formatted my phone to make sure that no more emails were pushed to it, and went out of my way to make sure that I did NOTHING on the phone other than speak to my wife. I thought all was well, until the next Cingular bill arrived yesterday, with ANOTHER 20+MB of traffic and another corresponding $200+ charge. It turns out that I had used that much data between the time the billing cycle ended and the time it took for the first bill to arrive. Nearly $500 for the privilege of checking email from the road. My skin turned green, muscles exploded from my clothes, and I ripped my shirt off as the painful memories of cell phone over-charges came back.

There was nothing I could do… I had clearly used the data, and had done so without bothering to make sure I was signed up for a data plan. I am quite certain that the phone contract (that I never read) had made it quite clear what the charges were per kilobyte, and I was going to have to fork over enough money to buy an Xbox 360.

Despite my previous experiences with Sprint, I thought that I would contact Cingular and beg for mercy. I shot an email to the Cingular rep that works with Microsoft, and explained my situation. I received an email back in eight minutes (Seriously. 8 minutes.) letting me know that he was researching my issue and would get back to me. Just before I left for the day today, I got another email letting me know that they had enabled the unlimited data plan on my account (which runs around $30 or so), and had credited me back nearly $500 for that data I had used.

They didn't have to do that. To be honest, I didn't expect them to. But they did. They made things right, exceeded my expectations, and they now have a customer for life. Cingular Rocks. Thanks guys!